Card Games | Evaluating Some of the New Rules
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on July 24, 2016
While most attention in football is always given to the players and the way the teams perform on a given day, there is almost never a game in which some attention, and usually negative is poured onto the Match Official. Since IFAB was founded as the international rules body for FIFA in 1886 they have continued to update and change the rules to keep up with the game, and their mandate “includes ensuring that the Laws are uniformly applied worldwide and monitored accordingly, and that organised football is practised consistently”(IFAB Laws of the Game 2016/17). Anyone who has watched more than one football game, even in the same league, let alone watched multiple leagues or international football competitions understands the last part “practised consistently” is the trickiest part of global officiating.
There were several interesting rule changes made that went into effect June 1st 2016, some of which I intend to discuss both their efficacy and how their implementation may impact game play. Before I do I want to cite that after watching both the ‘Copa America Centenario’ and the ‘European Championship’ as well as some of the start of the Mexican league, which have all taken place after June 1st 2016, that the problem of consistency is painfully obvious. Frankly the only new rule I saw consistently applied is the new kickoff rule allowing the ball to be played in any direction. Other than that one rule I can’t say all of the new rules have been adopted or were in practice. It may be that there wasn’t time for all the referees to be up to speed, especially in the heat and pressure of one of the international tournaments, so I hope that by the time the EPL starts, at least by then, we will see some consistency in attempting to enforce the new rules.
Much of what was added, not changed, as the changes were mostly refining and simplifying the language, has to do with the concept of ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’. The concept covers everything from dangerous tackles to practices of deceit. One of the most interesting and likely hardest to adjudicate is the rule concerning the taking of a penalty kick, where a player can be cautioned, and the ball turned over for an indirect free kick, if the kicker ‘feints’ just before he kicks, after he has completed his run up; although during his ‘run-up’ the player is allowed to feint. “Feinting to kick the ball once the kicker has completed the run-up (feinting in the run-up is permitted); the referee cautions the kicker.” In this context the feint can be construed as illegal if the player simply pauses after the run-up, well at least that is what I saw earlier this week during a Mexican League Cup game. In a game that ended 1 all, one team was awarded a penalty kick, rightly awarded, but the apparent application of the Law 14.4 on infringements when taking a penalty kick caused me and probably anyone watching some confusion. The PK was called back twice, and eventually the player had kicked the ball three times resulting in the eventual award of a goal. This is confusing on many levels, if the Mexican League official was right about what constituted an illegal ‘feint’, and I think on the first attempt he was, then according to the new rule which gave the referee the authority to stop the PK for feinting in the first place, the first infraction should have resulted in a ‘caution’, and an indirect free kick to the opposition team. “14.4 Some offences are always punished with an indirect free kick” and “play will be stopped and restarted with an indirect free kick regardless of whether or not a goal is scored: • a penalty kick is kicked backwards: • a team-mate of the identified kicker takes the kick; the referee cautions the player who took the kick • feinting to kick the ball once the kicker has completed the run-up (feinting in the run-up is permitted); the referee cautions the kicker”. This was not what I saw actually implemented in this game. Instead the referee warned the kicker the first time, cautioned him with a yellow for a second time, and allowed the kicker to take the PK a third time which finally resulted in a counted goal. This player had in fact hit the net with all three kicks, but the first two were not awarded due to apparent infringement. No matter what the infringement was, the rules are at least clear on what the consequences are, and a goal to the offending team is not among those. If this rule makes your head hurt when you imagine how it might be implemented in the future, there are a couple more rules I think are going to be even more complicated to adjudicate ‘consistently’.
These other rules I am speaking about are again based on enforcing the idea of good sportsmanship, of fair play and of professionalism. While I think there is merit in these rules, based on my experience it will be an awkward and yellow card filled season while players, coaches, and most of all Match Officials try to cope with the changes. The rules I am interested in discussing are related to player conduct on and off the pitch, as off pitch rule breaking by any named squad member can be now be punished. The first rules are for violent conduct:
“12.13 Violent conduct – no contact – Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.”
“12.14 Violent conduct – contact with the head/face – In addition, a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.”
Putting it simply these two rules will result in many a yellow and red card in the season to come, as an attempt of violent conduct is now as punishable as any violent conduct in and of itself. I completely agree with this rule change, because the spirit of the rule is that one player should not intentionally try and hurt another player, so even if they don’t succeed the rule is in place to stop them from attempting to, now that is enforceable. The difficulty is that it is up to a referee to determine if a player attempted violent conduct, or if they deliberately struck a player with force. Even before these two rules were clarified there was a great deal of deliberation about what constituted ‘intentional’ and ‘force’. While I see that if implemented consistently a great many incidents of actual violent conduct, an elbow to the face when backing into a player, or other more serious violations would be diminished, my fear is that it will not be implemented consistently and will result in more confusion and fan frustration.
The other rules that I fear will also cause frustration deal with player conduct, just not the violent kind. Again in principle protecting a referee from abusive player language is a good thing, disagreements aside, most referees are hard working professionals who deserve to be shown respect on the pitch. And again these rules are under Rule 12 ‘Cautionable Offences ’.
“Cautionable offences a player is cautioned if guilty of: … dissent by word or action … unsporting behaviour … shows a lack of respect for the game … verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart”
The worry with rules that enable a referee to card a player for something as uniformly debated as ‘unsporting behavior’ certainly has the potential to create more conflict than resolutions, as any of these very subjective concepts like ‘dissent by word or action’, or ‘lack of respect for the game’ could be seen as license to manage a game’s outcome. Since only the referee can know and decide if a player was ‘dissenting’ and not just expressing frustration, there is no real scenario where some team and their fans are not going to feel ‘cheated’. And since this really is at the heart of a lot of the new rule changes, to make all forms of cheating, obvious and less obvious, occur less; giving the Match Official these interpretable rules to enforce is asking for trouble.